Gendered Toys: The Pink/Blue Divide of Doom

The obvious first step was to get ragey about the binary marketing of children’s toys, and the message it sends to our kids. Things have, without a doubt, got worse on the pink/blue front in recent times. This is especially true for seemingly gender-neutral toys and objects: bikes, scissors, Lego, crayons, beach equipment and the like. There was no way my Depression-era grandparents would have spent money on something only marketed for children of one gender, as toys were expected to last for a number of kids, irrespective of whether they were boys or girls. What we have today seems to be a bit of a catch-22: because toys are comparatively cheaper, they are aggressively marketed in ways to make us buy more. Unless a specific piece of one’s anatomy is integral to the operation of said object, surely it is gender-neutral by definition? Even children’s toothbrushes are marketed along gender lines. Toothbrushes! Did I miss the science class where we learnt that little boys and little girls have dramatically different teeth that require different brushes, or does that just defy logic?

I then tried to teach my children that boys and girls can play with anything; we talked about how we are all individuals. I encouraged my daughter to play with trains, and asked: ‘Wouldn’t you rather wear this lovely green t-shirt?’ At this point I realized: what signal was I sending to my daughter if I was encouraging her not to wear pink, when my son could wear whatever he wanted? I had never tried to persuade my son that his blue monster truck hoodie isn’t appropriate; I’d never bought him a My Little Pony to prove a point. I’d dress my daughter in the “boys'” clothing collections as a point of principle, but I wasn’t dressing my son as a French autumnal princess. Not because I have a problem with it; he’d just never showed an interest, and it hadn’t occurred to me to encourage him to do so.

Why the resistance, then, to buying my daughter the “beautiful sparkly Princess ballet shoes” she so desired? If I was going to significant lengths to not buy pink for my daughter, did this mean that I was still guilty of buying into the pink/blue divide? I couldn’t tell my daughter that she could play with anything, as long as it wasn’t the pink princess rainbow sparkle toy. I can rage at the corporate giants and their ilk all I like, but the fact remains that as far as my daughter is concerned, it’s what she wants.

Where, then, does this leave me?

While I had all of the answers before I had children, I now have none. All I know is that I must walk the fine line between letting my children follow their interests and not letting the ridiculous commercialization of gender slide. I cannot forget that while my children believe that pink and blue are “girls” and “boys” colours, it is nurture, not nature that has caused this. I also cannot forget that the most important message for both of them is that I will support them in whoever they want to be, even if that means wanting to wear the dress that looks like a meringue on crack.

And where possible, not reach for gendered objects, especially when your children don’t care. Like toothbrushes. Because let’s face it: they are going to complain about having their teeth brushed regardless of the colour, right?


Lauren is a Wellington mother of two. She blogs at Modern Mothercraft, where she applies a 1945 handbook on motherhood to parenting in the modern day, as well as writing about other topical issues.

1 Comment

  • Hello I’m Jess I’m a Mummy to a son who I adore and I to have never given in to the gender based toys. My son unlike your children is very gender neutral himself. He is 3 and I have always bought him whatever he is interested in. His favourite colour has always been purple. I allow him to wear my jewellery, put on my lipstick and wear a head band when he wants to as that is what he asks for. He loves his toy kitchen we got him from when he was 2 and always is cooking in it. He is the best real lil chef in the kitchen with Mummy from since when he could walk. Santa even has to get him a kitchen helper to stand on as he loves helping making breaky, lunch and dinner. He loves playing with his pony and unicorn toys brushing their hair and playing games with them. He loves cats and I buy him a cat top from the girls section of course as that is where they are located in each size as he grows as that is what he loves. Even his pants have cats on them with a pink bow as he wears his unicorn blue and silver sparkly runners. One day in the shop he randomly said can I have a unicorn toy please. So looking around the shop as he has asked so nicely he found a Caticorn toy that I bought for him this was about a year ago. It was a cat his favourite animal with a unicorn horn another one of his favourite things. So that started his love of Caticorns. He now has a small Caticorn he also sleeps with them every night as well as his baby doll which he has always played with constantly and loves even more now that his Mummy is going to have a baby sister or brother for him soon. He said he wants a sister and has said that since he was before two. We just had his 3rd birthday and it was Caticorn themed with a pink unicorn table cloth cat themed and unicorn themed food, a Caticorn cake and him wearing his new Caticorn top saying Alazko is 3 that’s his name with his Caticorn purple headband and sparkly blue and silver unicorn runners. The games were all around the theme and he loved it and had so much fun as did all his friends. Prizes were even tiaras, rings, bracelets and key rings along with lollies and whistles as other prizes and even cat and unicorn themed party bags to take home for each child which they all loved. You would be surprised how many boys were actually really excited about the unicorns. I’m not sure if my son not watching tv has helped him to be interested in what he likes as he has actually never known otherwise. I do feel tv and cartoons are very gender based which could help influence a child’s thoughts on what they should and shouldn’t play with. He still plays with cars and trains although not so much as an massive interest. I guess all I’m trying to say is every child is different and so long as we follow their interests we are raising them up to be exactly who they desire to be we are all doing a great job for them and giving them the respect and opportunity for them to grow up to be whatever and whoever they want to be.

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